Chapter 29: Consequences
Out of sight of Brenda, the howling wind died down. Alex’s hands were on his knees as he struggled to regain his breath. Aaron leaned against a tree, wheezing, while their father paced angrily. “What the hell was that all about?” he demanded.
Before Alex could answer, Aaron’s startled cry called their attention to him. The sight ahead caused Aaron and Arthur to recoil in terror. For Alex, the sight ripped through his heart. Chloe struggled toward him. The pull of the house caused every step to be a war. With each inch she strayed, another piece was torn from her. Ragged shattered bone stuck out from the shredded coat sleeve. She fell when her leg and hip exploded. Her face was a tight mask pulled over the skull. Alex flew to her side. Her skeletal broken fingers clawed at the ground.
“You’re safe.” A harsh rasping voice rattled from the desiccated throat. Her smile split the skin at the corners of her mouth.
“What is happening to her?” Aaron cried over Alex’s shoulder.
Arthur was there now. “She’s too far from the house. We have to get her back there.”
It felt like sliding his hands under a bundle of broken sticks. His tears fell as did pieces of bones, raining in a ghostly glow onto the ground. Chloe moaned in agony as Alex lifted her. She weighed nothing in his arms. Alex tried to run. Chloe’s cries kept him to a tentative pace. There was an assault on their ears with every step. Bones snapped and shattered and reformed. Chloe screamed, and dark silvery blood oozed back into gaping wounds. Alex stumbled blindly, tears obscuring his sight. Alex could hear his father speaking soft words to Chloe as he walked by their side, stroking at first skull, then hair. Aaron led the group slowly back to the house through the darkness. The warmth of his hand felt comforting on Alex’s arm.
The hollow thud of Alex’s shoe on the wooden porch was easily heard through the deadly silence. Chloe had become heavier with every step, but she also became quieter. Alex had not dared to look down until they reached the hall. Laying her carefully on a chaise in the front room, Alex collapsed in a heap next to her. Arthur’s hand gripped Alex’s shoulder. “She’s back now; she’ll be OK.”
Aaron gasped, “We lost a shoe!” He was pointing at Chloe’s feet. Alex stared, his mind clouded and slow. She was indeed missing a shoe.
Arthur was in action now. There was quick movement behind Alex as he continued to stare. The outline of her toes through the sock was familiar. He had noticed it often since they met. They could not have lost it. Flashlights were tested, and a lantern dazzled Alex back to reality.
“Wait! We didn’t lose her shoe. She didn’t have one on…” Alex slapped himself in the head. Quickly he whispered in Arthur’s ear. Arthur stood up straight, glaring down at his son. He gave Alex a soft slap to the back of the head and hurried out the door, the truck keys jingling. Aaron watched his father go. A clicking sound from the corner began to annoy Aaron.
“Where did Dad go, and what the hell is that clicking?” Aaron turned to see Kerlvin tapping a clawed toe on the bottom stair. A cry of terror found Aaron scuttling back to his brother. He pointed, mouth open, at the demon.
“Tell her that was very foolish,” the demon hissed. His wings unfurled, and he took flight. “Tell her she has to be here, or there is no way for either of us to be free.” He disappeared in a flurry of wings and dust.
“What the hell is going on!” Aaron shouted. Several long minutes later had Alex still sitting next to Chloe holding her hand; she had not stirred. Aaron paced angrily up and down the hall. Frustrated, he stopped behind his brother. “She’s a ghost.” It was not a question. “But you can carry her! You can hold her hand; you, you…I mean, what the hell?” He ran a hand through Chloe. Alex jumped up glaring at Aaron. “See I can’t touch her, but you.” He pointed accusingly at Alex.
“You think I know? You think I care?” Alex growled. “She needed me, and I was there; that is all that matters.” Aaron backed away. His brother’s ferocity surprised him. “I can’t let anything happen to her. Like that runty demon says, she needs to be here so we can let her rest.” A tear ran down Alex’s cheek.
“Al, she’s dead.” Aaron’s voice was soft. “You can’t…” The front door swung open. Arthur held out an old box.
“I can’t believe you forgot about this. Again!” He frowned at Alex.
“Sorry,” Alex muttered, but Aaron wasn’t sure who he was apologizing to. From the box he pulled an old small shoe. Slowly he knelt down next to Chloe’s still figure. Alex carefully lifted the shoeless foot. Arthur’s arm rested on Aaron’s shoulder. Alex slipped the shoe over Chloe’s toes, adjusting the strap. Aaron gasped. Chloe was more substantial. Her eyes cracked open. She inhaled. With the breath, she seemed to also inhale color and substance. The chaise was still visible beneath her but much less so.
“I begged my father for those.” She spoke weakly as he slowly sat up. Alex’s arm was behind her helping her up. “He told me we couldn’t afford them.” She smiled, holding her feet out in front to get a better look. “Then he came home one day with the box. He said they went well with the coat.” Tears slid down her cheeks. “He said a proper young lady needed good shoes.” Her smile was sad as she let her feet drop to the floor. Her hand caressed Alex’s face.
“My father found that,” Arthur said. “I’m sorry it took us so long to get it back to you.”
“Your father was always so wonderful. I miss him,” Chloe replied.
“So do I.”
“I still have no idea what the hell is going on!” Aaron huffed.